North Dakota
Brown Ranch Preserve North Dakota © Richard Hamilton Smith

Places We Protect

North Dakota

Brown Ranch

The Sheyenne Delta is one of the few large blocks of grassland left in the tallgrass prairie region.

Why You Should Visit
The Sheyenne Delta, which encompasses Brown Ranch, was a river delta formed at the place where the Sheyenne River flowed into glacial Lake Agassiz. This lake covered the Red River Valley some 15,000 years ago. At its maximum, it was the size of the current Great Lakes. When Lake Agassiz drained after the continental glaciers receded, the sandy river sediments that made up the delta were left exposed as low rolling hills.

The current Sheyenne Delta is one of the most important native prairie landscapes left in the Upper Midwest. Because of its less productive, sandy prairie soils, much of it was never plowed for crop production. It is one of the few large blocks of grassland (369 square miles) left in the tallgrass prairie region. Although the Delta area was settled by farmers and ranchers in the 1800s, during the Dust Bowl and Depression years the federal government bought much of the area to help provide relief to struggling farmers and ranchers. Today, that land is administered by the U.S. Forest Service as the Sheyenne National Grasslands.

Brown Ranch is located on the southern edge of the Delta. Tallgrass prairie vegetation dominates the upland areas, with wetlands or wet prairies filling the lower-lying swales.

Brown Ranch is located in Ransom County about 8 miles northeast of Milnor, 13 miles northwest of Wyndmere, or 16 miles southeast of Lisbon, ND.

Plan Your Visit
For more information on visiting this and other North Dakota preserves, check out our Preserve Visitation Guidelines.

The land owned by the Conservancy at Brown Ranch is 1,531 acres. It is bordered on two sides by the Sheyenne National Grasslands administered by U.S. Forest Service and is part of the larger Sheyenne Delta landscape, nearly 236,000 acres, in a mix of private and public ownership.

What to See: Plants
The upland prairies of Brown Ranch are primarily sand prairies. On the drier areas, little bluestem, porcupine grass, and grama grass dominate the sand prairie. On slightly moister sites, sand bluestem and prairie sandreed are more common. In the still wetter swales, bluejoint, wooly sedge and wet meadow are commonly found.

The Sheyenne Delta as a whole contains about 850 of the 1,200 estimated plant species found in North Dakota. The Brown Ranch contains a quality example of the prairie portion of this flora. The rare plants found at Brown Ranch or its immediate vicinity include dune ragwort, bicknell's sunrose, upright pinweed, and northern lady-fern. The western prairie fringed orchid, federally-listed as threatened, is also found on Brown Ranch.

What to See: Animals
More than 20 species of butterflies have been identified here including the regal fritillary. The best time to see butterflies is on warm sunny days in early summer. Brown Ranch also has a resident population of greater prairie chickens. Nationally, these birds are declining in much of their range. Brown Ranch has one of the few remaining populations in North Dakota.

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
The Conservancy identified Brown Ranch in their Northern Tallgrass Prairie Ecoregional Plan as a high priority for protection because it is an important part of the Sheyenne Delta and one of the few large examples of nearly intact native tallgrass prairie in northern tallgrass prairie ecoregion.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
The Conservancy purchased Brown Ranch in 2000 and has worked to restore 100 acres of disturbed prairie using prescribed fire for invasive weed control.

In addition, the Conservancy is building strong partnerships with neighboring landowners and government agencies. An example: working with the U.S. Forest Service and ranchers, the Conservancy is encouraging sustainable grazing practices to improve native species diversity, along with livestock production. The Conservancy is also restoring habitat for threatened grassland birds in the region by controlling the spread of invasive species.

Finally, the Brown Ranch is being utilized for numerous research projects by with North Dakota State University, North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Canoeing the Sheyenne River, photography, bird watching, and mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding on the North Country National Scenic Trail are some of the activities in which to participate in the area. There are no facilities available at Brown Ranch. There are supplies and gas at surrounding small towns. Bring plenty of water in the summer.

Hunting and Fishing Activities
Check out our Preserve Visitation Guidelines for more information the Conservancy's hunting and fishing policies on North Dakota preserves. Download the 2018 hunting permit for Brown Ranch, which includes rules and a map specific to Brown Ranch.